Tuesday, 02 December 2014

THE DA's VERY OWN COMPOSTGATE?

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PRESS RELEASE BY PAARDEBERG SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVE ON THE AUTHORISATION BY THE CITY OF CAPE TOWN OF A WASTE MANAGEMENT FACILITY UNDER THE GUISE OF AN AGRICULTURAL OPERATION It is with utmost regret that the entire community along Slent Road, Klipheuwel, Western Cape has learned that the City of Cape Town’s Council under leadership of Mrs Patricia de Lille, will rubber stamp a recommendation by officials to authorise a waste management facility, in an area where, until recently, the focus was on sustainable farm operations. Notwithstanding various submissions and please to the DA-lead council and finally submission of almost 300 individual petitions, the majority from xhosa-speaking farm workers, it all fell on deaf ears and was turned into nothing more than the dust generated on Slent Road by the monster trucks from Reliance Compost. And the plea to Council was simple, only a request to properly investigate the matter taking all factors into an account and to not arbitrarily decide on a matter that involves one of the City’s very own service providers. A service provider who was allowed by the City to operate illegally without any action taken.

A resident of the area had the following to say: “The Reliance composting plant is situated along the edge of the Winelands border, more specifically on the notorious Slent Road in Agter-Paardeberg, close to Paarl.  Notorious, because  the poor state of the road has caused many accidents, a situation worsened by about at least 2000 trips per month of between 15 and  30 Ton Reliance trucks and other vehicles generated by this site. But let’s look at the cost of the Reliance “greening” exercise:  According to their own reports, Reliance trucks do 96 trips PER DAY:  Should they adhere to their prescribed operating hours and days of operations, then one can (conservatively) estimate that about 2 000 trips per month is made, so about 23 000 per annum.  (Traffic volumes were measured a few years ago, in the meantime this operation has almost doubled the amount of heavy vehicles they have on the road).

Let’s take it a step further.  I call it “so-called” green waste because it also brings in much more than green waste. Pieces of plastic from waste have landed up in adjacent farmers’ lands, been ingested by cattle, and according to these farmers led to the loss of livestock and their lands unsuitable for grazing. This so-called “green waste” is carted in from far flung drop-off sites:   Mostly Wynberg, Ladies Mile (Constantia), Woodstock, Athlone and a few trips from Gordon’s Bay, Kraaifontein and Tygerdal.  When one conservatively calculate the distances these trucks travel on a daily basis one can safely assume that they do about 9 000 km’s on a DAILY basis, approx. 45 000km’s on a WEEKLY basis and about 180 000km’s on a MONTHLY basis - to take away waste from the City of Cape Town and dumping it in the Agter-Paardeberg on the border of the Winelands.. And THIS is what they call “carbon neutral”.

One cannot help but wonder WHY, when the farm on which this plant operates and which once proudly exported organic grapes to overseas markets, has been converted into a massive composting plant with monster trucks, massive industrial turners, screening machines and front end loaders blasting, revving, smoking, belching and polluting the air for most hours of the day (and often nights as well), Why is it permitted   HERE on the edge of the Winelands? Surely there are many alternative sites, closer to source on less valuable land and far away from anyone’s back yards? We know there are other more suitable ways of disposing of green waste, such as delivering it as mulch to many farms, who would use the mulch to improve their soils. Or biodgesting it for electricity production? Or both?

But then it becomes clear why, when you are made aware that Reliance in 2009 was awarded a sole contract to the value of R208, 412, 782.00 – to transport/remove waste from various drop-off sites and AWAY from the City of Cape Town. So, no – it will not make any sense for this operation to actually GO GREEN in the true sense of the word.  In first world countries, green waste is converted on waste/land fill sites or at least as close as possible to source.  In 2012 the contract was renewed.

Let’s look at the cost to people in this area:  Lives have been lost on the Slent Road (including Reliance employees), and numerous accidents, fatalities, injuries may be attributed to the presence of this plant and the impact their trucks have on the Slent Road. Seldom will you find public transport on this road – the taxis are unwilling to use this road - the only form of public transport is the local school bus service, which transports children who live outside of a 4km radius.  For the remainder of the small, primary school children walking unsupervised up to 4 km’s to school and back every day,  it is a perilous exercise while huge trucks and other traffic simply covers them in a thick layer of dust and makes them invisible – the school is situated about 1km from this plant and the road has no safe sidewalk.  

In an informal survey conducted by a student for the community, the response was overwhelmingly negative towards this operation –this included farm workers, school-children and their parents. Specialist studies and comments received which formed part of the report of the Environmental Impact Assessment practitioners for their client – Reliance - raised concerns regarding this operation at this specific site and the impact on immediate neighbours, including workers, farm workers and their children on this property. Conveniently, only certain aspects of these reports were addressed in the subsequent EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report, in which specialist reports give a completely different picture of the operation: 

 An air quality assessment showed clearly that neighbours, site workers, farm workers and their children living permanently on this site is and will be susceptible to  upper respiratory complications due to pathogens being released during the composting process of 100’s of thousands of tons of waste. Pathogens generated by the composting process were found a few kilometres away. (A chicken farm over the orad closed its operations long before the chicken industry woes, due to unacceptable levels of Infectious Bronchitis in its broilers. This led to retrenchemtns and redeployment of workers The counter-argument from Reliance  was: “Only on-site workers will be affected”.  Families of farm workers (including their children) live less than 30m’s from this site and are not mentioned in Reliance’s counter argument.

And the Western Cape Government, in the form of Minister Anton Bredell,  was satisfied with- and echoed this response.  Now they have rewarded this operation with rights to further expand on this site.  Min. Bredell finds it just fine that this operation brings in a further 8000 t/month of green waste, 3000 t/month of pig, chicken and cattle manure, 40 000 t of grape waste (over a 3-month period annually) and a further 2000 t/m of rotting fruit and vegetables. The concern that the farm children may in all probability help themselves to rotting fruit – as kids sometimes do – is conveniently ignored.

Could it be that the Western Cape Government still holds the rights of big, white business in higher regard than that of marginalised farm workers, who are not in a position nor have the means to fight for their Constitutional rights? I wonder whether the onsite and Reliance farm workers and their children have been informed about the health hazards of working and living on this site?  But even so – will they complain? Unlikely, as their jobs depend on keeping their mouths shut. A further irony then is that neither the owner nor any of his managers’ lives on this site ... could it be due to fears they may have for their own families’ health, safety and sanity? Do we as neighbours to this operation support the CoCT’s endeavours to minimise waste and landfill – yes, absolutely -  but when people’s lives are put in danger, when their health as well as their psychological wellbeing are placed in a secondary position because of “big money” and the true cost to the environment is this high, we say NO!  According to Reliance management alternate sites, far away from people’s backyards and actually closer to source, is just not financially viable. And yet we have been told  of fully financed alternatives, with payback varying  from 4-8  years, dependent on the technology employed, that have been put to the City?? And whilst workers, children, neighbours and farmers on the Slent Road have to endure constant noise, nuisance and choke on pathogen laden dust, the owner sits far away in his Paarl mansion and occasionally ventures with his Porsche onto the Slent Road and to the Reliance site.

After 100’s of complaints of non-compliances by Reliance over many years, illegal commencements, notices served against this operation, dust, noise pollution, uncontrolled fires, etc - it seems that the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town have made concerted efforts to protect this operation and to turn a blind eye to their many transgressions.  In this process the City of Cape Town has not only shown dismal disrespect for Land Owners’ and farm worker’s Constitutional Rights, but also made it clear that the “small people” still don’t count!” 

Residents truly believed that the City of Cape Town will also work for them, it now appears that they were wrong.

Published in Energy and Environment